I finished Just Juliet by Charlotte Reagan last week and yesterday morning started writing my review. The words didn’t come, however, so in accordance with past practice I went to the pub for inspiration. The post was written in its entirety over a beer and edited to completion on Saturday morning.
First things first. I enjoyed the book very much. It was a very satisfying read. The plot is very simple – Lena Newman, a teenage girl falls in love with a school friend, Juliet James, and comes out to her family and friends. And it is never boring. The main characters are all drawn well and appear to one as real people rather than just figures on the page.
This is important as it is Reagan’s ability to create ‘real’ people that is the strength, and salvation of the book. This is because in terms of the plot she is much too nice to them. Quite simply, Lena has far too easy a ride in her coming out story.
True, her parents are never quite reconciled to her bisexuality, and true her former boyfriend is rude about gay people, but Lena never comes under any serious threat or danger. What she loses in sympathy from her parents she gains in love from Juliet’s family; what she loses in respect from her former boyfriend she gains in philial love from her friends.
This facts serve to tone down the drama of Lena’s coming out. In consequence, Just Juliet really comes alive in the aliveness of the characters.
Except that is, in the epilogue. It is by far the best piece of writing in the whole book. Which is funny because insofar as it covers ‘what happened next’ to the characters it is also just a gloried synopsis. What it does, however, far more than in the seventeen chapters that precede it is delve into
Lena’s fractured emotions.
Actually, in a way, I’m being unfair. Reagan does give us plenty of emotion in the book but for me the epilogue takes it to a much deeper, and therefore satisfying, level. In those few pages you go through much more of a journey with her.
Before finishing, I would like to highlight one other thing. I said that Lena gets too easy a ride, and that is true. But this does not mean that the book shrinks from suffering. Reagan may not show it graphically but it is there (and should we demand that she show it so clearly? No, of course not).
For example, Scott’s boyfriend Lakyn is covered in scars from when he self-harmed. When his family found out he was gay, he was not so lucky as Juliet or Lena. Scott has a strained relationship with his parents for the same reason. Lena’s school friend Georgia slept with a boy, became pregnant and has now lost something of her teenagehood. Mr. James lost his wife, and so on.
To get the most from Just Juliet, therefore, one has to go below the surface and enter the story on a deeper level.
Just Juliet is a YA work/piece of teen fiction but like the best books, anyone can enjoy it. I am sure that reading it will benefit anyone who is thinking about coming out. I am concerned, however, that it sugar coats what can be a very difficult process just a little too much. I am not an expert on this, however, so you may take my opinion with a pinch of salt.
With this book, Charlotte Reagan establishes herself as both a good and promising young writer. I look forward to reading her next work and hope she grows in bravery in terms of how she treats her characters; if she does, I feel certain that the reward for her and her readers will be even richer than the little jewel she has given us here.
Saturday, 15th Oct. I have just finished editing this post. Below, you can see my obligatory beer-and-tablet-in-the-pub photograph. Above, with reference to my comment about Reagan’s next work, see the picture on the right hand side – the front cover of Loving Lakyn. If you click on the relevant link below you’ll see that she is writing the story even as we speak.
PS I still don’t like the above version of Just Juliet‘s cover
PPS I still don’t know how to pronounce Lakyn!
Front cover of Just Juliet: Goodreads
Front cover of Loving Laykn: Charlotte Midnight at Wattpad
Beer and iPad: the author